The NFL preseason is, for all intents and purposes, over. There is still a game to play, yes, but few starters or even second-string players will feature in those final preseason games. With rosters heading towards cuts, we have a good understanding of where we stand ahead of Week One. Here are the 5 lessons that became clear after the most important — and effectively final — week of the preseason.
It could to be a long, long season for the Bears
The third preseason game is the most important one — it’s the dress rehearsal — and if that standard holds true for the Bears in the regular season, it’s unlikely Jay Cutler is the Bears starting quarterback come November. The Bears offense has a lot in common with the NFL’s worst offense from a year ago, the 49ers’: a bottom-third offensive line, one viable, but generally unproven Big Ten running back, and one true big-play receiver. Chicago’s defense should be above-average but it’s much easier to see the Bears competing for last place than first place in the NFC North.
It’s going to be a trying week for three “franchise” quarterbacks
Before Colin Kaepernick became America’s latest political firebrand, he was a quarterback — a good one at first, but lately… not so much. His poor performance in the 49ers’ third preseason game — his first of the year — will have him staying away from coaches’ offices on Tuesday, when team rosters need to be cut to 75. Geno Smith might want to keep his bag packed — he only took 11 snaps in the Jets’ game against the Giants — if not for a poor game from Bryce Petty, Smith would be out the door. There’s still a chance the Jets decide to move on from the QB. The Broncos will almost certainly cut ties with Mark Sanchez in the next week. The presumed starter heading into camp didn’t play in the Broncos’ third preseason game — Trevor Siemian is going to start with first-round pick Paxton Lynch backing him up this season.
The Jared Goff era will not be starting anytime soon
The Rams’ coaches have been going through the motions in the preseason, saying the requisite things about Case Keenum, who entered camp as the incumbent starter. It’s no secret that the Rams wanted No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff to be the Week One starter — the team gave up a fortune for him — but so far in camp he’s failed to stand out. Saturday night’s game against the Broncos was the clearest example of how far behind the learning curve Goff is. Against a mix of first- and second-stringers, the game appeared to be going at warp speed for the Cal quarterback. Goff will get his chance, but the Rams would be foolish to toss him out in Week One — if he wasn’t able to keep up with the pace in the third preseason game, he’ll get himself, or one of his teammates, hurt in the regular season.
The Dolphins are going to win a lot of casual fans this year — games are another story
The tenets have been infiltrating the NFL for years, but the Dolphins appear to be going for it: they’re going to run a true spread offense at the NFL level. Ryan Tannehill gets plenty of flack, but he might be the right quarterback to run it for Miami. With their depth at receiver, a pretty good offensive line, and a reborn Arian Foster (he’s looked tremendous in the preseason), the Dolphins will have one of the most fun offenses to watch in the NFL. The defense might not be able to stop many teams, but they’ll be able to stay in games with Adam Gase's O.
Romo’s injury changes everything, and nothing, for Dallas
On Wednesday, the Cowboys’ biggest issue heading into Week One of the season was their defense. It was still in the top spot on Saturday. In the meantime, Tony Romo was ruled out of the first six to 10 weeks of the season, making rookie fourth-round pick Dak Prescott the starting quarterback. Prescott has been stellar in the preseason, which has quelled many fears, but those gaudy stats shouldn’t carry over to the regular season. Either way, Prescott should be able to run the Cowboys’ offense, which is built around the run game and jump balls to Dez Bryant. The defense, on the other hand, did not have a good preseason. The Cowboys still lack an adequate, much less an elite, pass rusher — a position just as important as quarterback in this pass-happy NFL — and that was painfully obvious as Dallas allowed 350 yards per game in the preseason and had only two sacks as a team. The Cowboys — with Romo or without him — have the offense to compete for a Super Bowl, but the preseason showed little evidence they have the defense capable of winning a championship.